12.18.2009

Await Your Reply

Is it time yet?  Can we start talking about the book?  I doubt I'll get very deep, as that's not how I felt about the book.  I felt the book was a kind of surface, somehow, ranging horizontally across space rather than vertically through levels of consciousness.  I read the thing in three days.  One night it kept me up till 4 in the morning.  Long time since a book's done that, but I don't read a lot of whodunits or thrillers.  Maybe they all do it.

I really liked the almost freakishly calm style of describing creepy events, and I appreciated the plain cleanliness of that style.  This was a book all about character and story -- no fancy stuff, as Frank would say.  I thought it was cool how the three storylines ever so gradually approached each other, and I thought even more of Chaon when I read later in an interview that at first he had no idea how the stories were connected, that they began as images, and he just followed them all, trusting that his subconscious would do the work, until he figured it all out toward the end of the writing (and as his wife was dying).

Miles was the most attractive to me in his self-conscious but helpless obsession, and Hayden was all the more vivid for appearing off-page (or apparently so) for so long.  And I sympathized with Lucy in her better-than-it-was-but-wtf attitude.  Looked forward to her sections, and my favorite part of the book was her feeling her way through Africa.  I didn't care for Ryan for some reason.  He was too weak for me -- weak in an annoying way, as opposed to Miles' endearing weakness.

That said -- and I'm quoting now from someone's comments on a workshop story of mine -- I'm not sure what it all added up to.  What was my "takeaway," what did it reveal about human nature?  Nothing I hadn't already thought about.  What surprised me?  Not a lot.  I must have picked up the exact right clues along the way, and I'm usually not that good at solving mysteries.  What did it teach me about writing?  It reinforced "trust the reader" by being so spare but so precise in detail.  And it demonstrated that atmosphere and background really do color a book -- his descriptions of landscapes (especially Nebraska), I thought, were effective and truly enhanced whatever mood was on offer at the time.  But the book hasn't stayed with me that much.  I haven't found myself re-caught in its language or visuals, as happens with a lot of other books.  And here's my test:  If someone asked whether I'd recommend it, I see myself shrugging...

9 comments:

dunkeys said...

Sorry I've been slow to add on -- I didn't want to get in the way of other comments. Basically I thought the book was awful. I figured Dan Chaon was a literary author (trying to make a reader feel something by presenting an inventive story) but maybe I'm mistaken. This was, in my mind, a thrill-less thriller (quick pile-on: not convincingly researched; not a single intelligent character; not a single character complex in a way I find complexity interesting; heavy in obvious plot-devices; using a resolution/explanation that Donald Kaufman also used, from what I recall).

For what it's worth: had we read the Stephen King, I'd have *expected* something non-liteary and not been as dismayed as I am with the Chaon. Ah, expectations. Damn them.

And for all my carping about Netherland, at least it made me feel some sort of kinship with the author -- he's someone trying to more or less do the same things I try to do when I write.

With Await Your Reply? Not one bit.

Grendel said...

Everyone else must have LOVED the book so much they're speechless!

Pete said...

Still working on it. So far I can say I don't love it like I did "You Remind Me of Me" or "Among the Missing."

Grendel said...

After that I read A Passage to India, which was very good. I had a couple problems with the ending, but I really enjoyed the writing and the colonial story was not cliche. James Cameron could have learned something about making the "natives" complex and ambiguous.

dunkeys said...

Avatar: I really liked the arm-holding chanting religious rite (which they'd all memorized though it certainly had never happened before in their history).

I read Alice in Wonderland after the Chaon. Now *that* is a weird book. It's great, but I have no idea why it's so popular (why did Disney pick it? I'm stumped).

Vampiro said...

Ima jerk. I did read the book, and I intended to post something on it but ended up caught up in the whirlwind of holiday travel. Now, I can't even remember what it was about.

It actually took me a long time to read the book, due to the fact that I found myself terribly annoyed early on by the fragmented style and Attention Grabber(trademark) openings. The characters I found to be shallow plot pieces. (I actually found Lucy to be the weakest and most irritating, a product of design rather than a real person.) Some of the setting description and choice was interesting, but it was a heavily plotted book, and I do wonder if his method (starting these three interesting storylines and writing the book until they met) wasn't in fact part of what shallowed the thing out.

The only thing that got me through to the end was the essential puzzle-like nature of the book. I had to at least see what the final solution was. I expected the type of ending I got (though I did get surprised a bit by the final twists). I think compatriots dunkeys and Grendel summed up my feelings about the book, largely. It's not terrible, but it's not the sort of thing I like to read, generally. Gonna go get some Thomas Hardy and wash it away.

El Gordo de Amore said...

I apologize for not reading it (holidays, editing project, reading the comments didn't actually get me fired up) -- and I got hooked on a Kelly Link book of short stories -- the minute I hit Miss Rhode Island as a C'thlu, Link had my heart.

That being said, I'm up for whatever is next.

Grendel said...

There was some talk of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel? It won the Man Booker last year?

Grendel said...

I started The Inferno. Anyone want to follow Dante and Virgil into Hell with me?